WALTER LIPPMANN ON FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT (AND GEORGE W BUSH?)
I sure wish people still wrote books the way they used to. I am now reading Walter Lippmann’s U.S. Foreign Policy: Shield of the Republic (1942). Like most of his writing, it is full of passages that you want to commit to memory. Here’s one:
Thus from 1937 to 1940 President Roosevelt moved anxiously and hesitantly between his knowledge of what ought to be done and his estimate of how much the people would understand what ought to be done. I shall not attempt to answer the question whether he could have made the people understand how great was their peril…. The illusions of a century stood in the way of their understanding, and it may be that no words, but only the awful experience of total war, could even partially dispel the illusion.
In any event the fact is that Mr. Roosevelt did not succeed in persuading the nation to attend effectively to the American interest. Though he understood it himself, though he realized the peril, in action he followed events, taking small measures to repair great disasters which were undermining the American position in all the strategic areas of the world. (p. 44).
It is now clear to me that the national security establishment, increasingly paralyzed by the government’s (and nation’s) general failure to understand the situation we’re in, is shaping Bush’s decision-making in the same direction of reflexive minimal measures to repair great disasters. It’s clear to most people that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a disaster, but that doesn’t mean we understand our situation
well enough to make clear decisions. At what points between here and a nuclear-armed Iran should we prepared to make a stand? What are the irreducibly minimum ramparts of our security, and what should we be prepared to do to defend them? Answering these questions in a sober and practical way would be a start. But as long as Bush continues to answer them with vagueness, we can know that we are yet again marching directly and perhaps inexorably towards great disasters, and once again, it doesn’t even seem to help that these disasters are clearly marked as such.